People love working in the AV integration industry. And that’s not a blanket statement.
Commerical Integrator interviewed a group of integrators just last year and asked them what they loved most about working in the AV industry. Responses ranged from enjoying the excitement that comes with working in an ever-evolving industry to having the ability to deliver solutions to truly solve customers’ needs.
However, it’s a unique industry. There are deeply embedded, seldom questioned business practices that can be quite surprising to professionals who have transitioned into integration from other industries.
To learn a bit more about what it’s like working in the AV industry, we’ve interviewed three AV professionals. But these aren’t just any three integrators. What is unique about this trio is the fact that they didn’t start out in the AV industry.
Marc Santoro, director of marketing & client experience at Sensory Technologies, worked in advertising for Dick’s Sporting Goods and product management for The 3M Company before entering the AV world. Mark L. Peterson, associate principal corporate & unified collaboration at Shen Milsom & Wilke LLC, was an operations engineer and technical consultant at IBM’s corporate training campus before becoming an AV consultant for Fortune 500 companies in New York. Taylor Crane, a BidPro Specialist at Adtech Systems, worked in education before landing his current job with Adtech.
All three of these AV professionals had certain expectations coming into their new roles. Some of these expectations were met, others weren’t, but what the entire industry can learn from these three of their own is what has surprised them most about working in AV.
AV Technology Lacks Business Impact
What initially surprised Marc Santoro most about the AV industry was the minimal impact technology was having on business.
“[There’s] just not enough focus on the real business use for the technology,” he says.
When Santoro was working at 3M, he frequently used the technology available in his offices and remembers the immense amount of technical issues he and his coworkers had to face on a consistent basis.
“I’d conduct meetings, they could be local with people within the office, or oftentimes I was conducting meetings with someone from Brazil, China, and Europe all at one time, and we constantly had [technical] issues. I think one of the issues was there was no one really responsible when it came down to those rooms functioning for a business purpose,” says Santoro.
“There was a big disconnect between what I thought the AV industry had the ability to do to impact business, and what businesses were even aware of.”
While offices and conferences rooms across the globe are outfitted with some of the most innovative technology ever created, Santoro says businesses simply don’t have the knowledge of how to use the technology to actually improve sales, communication, and their bottom line.
“There was a big disconnect between what I thought the AV industry had the ability to do to impact business, and what businesses were even aware of. I spent a lot of time traveling to our offices down in South America, and 50 percent of the time it was unneccessary. I could have handled that via video conferencing, but that wasn’t even made available to us. We didn’t know about it.”
How the industry can improve:
Santoro says AV pros need to develop an understanding of what end-users really want and need out of technology in order to deliver a solution that will actually impact clients’ businesses.
“I think it’s important to bring some people in that are business decision makers that have a need for these types of solutions we have and pick their brain. There’s just not a great understanding [about business applications]. What are the business applications that are occurring in these rooms? [The answers] would probably change, quite a bit, the solutions that are put in there,” says Santoro.
Santoro also thinks that the industry has an opportunity to better showcase its capabilities to potential customers.
“The big missing piece that a lot of other industries do really well is is they not only talk about what the impact is [of solutions], but they show that from a metric standpoint. They are able to show some form of an ROI, and everything I kept hearing when I first got to this industry was about how [technology] is going to save travel time.
“Yes, it does that, and everyone knows that now, but there are so many other things that it has the ability to do. It has the ability to accelerate product development speed in large organizations. It’s all about communication, and if you can accelerate communication or make it more clear, you accelerate everything around it.”
Lack of Technical Accountability
AV systems are pretty much useless if they don’t function properly, but that is the exact issue Mark L. Peterson remembers businesses running into around the time the recession hit.
“There was a moment here in the industry during the financial crisis in 2008 where AV systems, particularly video conferencing was looked at as nice to have, but you couldn’t always depend on it. You couldn’t depend on the projection screen working or the AV calls staying on,” remembers Peterson.
Peterson said that companies depended heavily on technology to get mission-critical messages to their employees, especially during the recession, and if that technology failed, the consequences could be dire.
“I remember the head of Morgan Stanley, his name was John Mack, was doing a town hall meeting in a room full of 150 people. They were in auditoriums connected by video over a thousand streams to the desktops. Company stock was down to six and this room was silent and he stood there and he said with incredible confidence, ‘Stay the course’ and Morgan Stanley survived. I can tell you that, if there were any technical problems, if there was feedback on the microphone or a dropped video connection, there would have been a different outcome for that company,” says Peterson.
With technology playing a new, highly critical role in businesses, Peterson says the industry had no choice but to improve systems and make them more reliable.
“The expectation had then been established that these rooms could not fail. That was a mind flip. It meant now that we had to do things in a different way.”
Mark L. Peterson
“The expectation had then been established that these rooms could not fail. That was a mind flip. It meant now that we had to do things in a different way and we had to build systems that were reliable, measurably, quantifiable, reliable specifications that we could give to the AV contractor in advance. The same with the control systems side, it could not fail, reboots weren’t acceptable.”
What Peterson is still finding surprising about the AV industry is the hesitation by AV pros to learn IT best practices.
“I have been really surprised about the slow adoption of these IT best practices going from dev to pre-production to production with the release candidates and tracking these release candidates. There’s a discipline to the turnover process of what’s been changed. What’s the rollback strategy, if something fails?
Companies are updating the control system code. They are going into these conferencing rooms, updating the code overnight. The rooms have to be used the next day and they are not being held to the same accountability as IT people who are updating desktops.”
How the industry can improve:
Peterson says AV pros will have to follow in the footsteps of IT experts and adopt their best practices in order to be considered experts in installations that involve working with clients’ networks.
“When we see this move over from AV over to IP of Dante, ABB Punch Press video, I don’t yet see the mindset on the design and the deliverables take on that IT approach. That’s why I believe IT managers are now and will continue to be in the driver’s seat just because of their abilities to manage failure and expectations. That modeling is much more efficient than the way we’ve been doing it. We haven’t been doing it in AV.
Time is of the Essence…Constantly
When Taylor Crane began working for Adtech Systems, time (or lack thereof) instantly stood out as a unique aspect of working for an AV integration firm.
“In the other jobs I’ve had, it’s been less chaotic. There’s definitely an emphasis on getting things done as quickly as possible in AV, and that was definitely something I noticed when I first started,” says Crane.
Crane has also been impressed with the passion and expertise his coworkers have for AV.
“I find that many people here really enjoy what they do, and they’re extremely knowledgeable about it. It’s fun to talk about things with people who really know what they’re talking about, to have that knowledge base to be able to draw off of and learn from. I find that really fascinating.”
“I think there is a lot of potential for people who are willing to work hard. I came in with pretty much no knowledge about the industry whatsoever, but just by being able to dig in an focus, there’s been a lot of reward on investment.”
Along with learning from experts within the industry, Crane says there are great opportunities to grow in AV in comparison to other industries.
“I think there is a lot of potential for people who are willing to work hard. I came in with pretty much no knowledge about the industry whatsoever, but just by being able to dig in an focus, there’s been a lot of reward on investment. If you put in the work, you can get places pretty easily.”
How the industry can improve:
Crane says that the amount of internal work can sometimes slow down the company’s ability to get things done fast.
“There is a lot of behind-the-scenes paperwork, and I think with such a focus on being fast-paced, [initiatives] get bogged down with internal processes and things like that,” says Crane.
Integration firms may be able to improve their efficiency by taking a hard look at their internal processes.